Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Border Field State Park in Imperial Beach
(plus Mission Bay Bonfire)

On our day off from work, Tori and I drove down to Imperial Beach for a hike in the Border Field State Park. Our trail started in the Tijuana River Estuary which is the largest coastal wetland in Southern California and sits on the international border of US and Mexico. The majority of the Tijuana River flows through Mexico before crossing the border and emptying into the sea through the estuary. While a major source of wastewater pollution into San Diego over the last hundred years, the US helped pay for a sewage treatment plant in Mexico in the late 1990s to help clean up the river. While not up to the same clean water standards of the US, the amount of raw sewage has been greatly reduced except for the major spills during seasonal storms. In 2020, the new NAFTA agreement included 300 million to further clean up the river and improve the treatment plant.

While the road to the Friendship Park of the Californias on the border is now closed to cars, we parked on Monument Road and followed the paved road west. Halfway to the beach, the trail became a dirt road through the center of the dry salt marsh. In the distance, we could see into Mexico on the other side of the tall border fence. South of the river mouth, we crossed over a small stream and emerged onto the beach where an old concrete pillar of a former life guard tower rose out of the sand. The waves were large and extremely rough. We had planned to return back to our car at this point, but we decided to continue along the South Beach Trail. Walking toward the border fence, we could see the Tijuana Lighthouse on the hill growing steadily larger.

At the border, the metal fence extends 300 feet into the ocean as the incoming waves splash along its length. On the hill, we could see the large bullring, the Plaza de Toros Monumental. The beach on the US side was empty but it was quite crowded on the other side. In October of last year, a group of 70 people tried to swim around the end of the fence all at once and a woman downed in the attempt. A friend of my father's lives in Playas, the Mexican beach town on the other side of the border. When my brother and I stayed with him for a week, we used to walk right up to the border fence from the other side. Walking back to our car, we almost stepped on a Southern Pacific Rattlesnake crossing the center of the road. The total hike was 3.5 miles.

Leaving the state park, we entered Imperial Beach and parked at the northern tip of the Estuary. We were hungry and thirsty, so we ordered cocktails and a shared appetizer at the IB Forum Sports Bar. It's been forever since we've had potato skins. After our break, we headed north to the Imperial Beach Pier and walked out to the end and explored the rest of the small downtown. For dinner, we sat at the bar of the Brigantine and shared a plate of their famous fish tacos. We watched the sunset before heading home.

Update: 5/14/22 

On Saturday, we met up with our friends at Mission Bay for a beach bonfire in the quieter Sail Bay. We parked at the Fanuel Street Park and walked down the boardwalk to Riviera Shores Beach on the west side of Crown Point. We arrived just before sunset so the lighting was beautiful.

Kenny brought a smokeless firepit and it worked great. Normally my clothes stink of smoke after a bonfire but they still smelled clean afterwards. We had a wonderful time chatting and roasting Hot Dogs over the fire. A couple walked over from a nearby vacation rental to ask if they could use our fire for S'mores. They had an Uber deliver marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate so they shared their extra supplies and we all had some of the sticky treat.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Beyond Van Gogh Experience
(Plus Cutwater Spirits Distillery)

Since we enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum during our 2017 Amsterdam trip, Tori and I decided to go to the Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience that is currently in San Diego. It wasn't crowded when we arrived on a weekday afternoon at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. For the first part of the exhibition, we walked between the illuminated panels filled with quotes and text describing the life of the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh, who committed suicide at 37 years old. Taking up painting in his twenties in 1881, he was most prolific during his final years when he lived in the south of France and suffered from depression. He created some of his most famous paintings while living in psychiatric hospitals after cutting off part of his ear during an argument with his painter friend, Gauguin.  

Since there was no line, we were able to enter the Immersive Experience part of the exhibit without a wait. Inside the large hall, over 300 of his masterpieces come to moving life, projected in amazing detail on the floor and walls surrounding us. The special projectors directly overhead sprayed out over four trillion pixels to show the larger than life paintings in high definition. It was great to just wander around and feel like we were inside the impressionistic landscapes created by Vincent Van Gogh. The thirty-five minute multimedia experience was created by the French-Canadian director, Mathieu St-Arnaud, and his team at Normal Studio in Montreal. With all the video game studies in that city, I am not surprised that they were able to produce this cool virtual reality.

Watch videos below for the moving images and the accompanying audio of the Immersive Experience. My favorite was the falling petals from the Almond Blossom's painting.

After visiting the Van Gogh exhibit, we went to Cutwater Spirits for dinner. They are an award-winning local distillery that specializes in canned cocktails that Tori and I have enjoyed many times. In 2017, they opened a Tasting Room & Kitchen at their production facility in Miramar. It was cool to see their tall Column Still bubbling away inside the two-story glass tower. We could see the fermented mash sloshing around through the bottom port holes as the heat vaporizes the liquid and forces the alcohol and other volatile molecules up the copper column of the still. After the vapor is diverted from the top of the still, it condenses out into the liquid form of the particular spirit they are making.

After being seated on the outside deck, we each tried a Cutwater Heater cocktail. Tori had the Vodka Apple Pie while I enjoyed my Hot Buttered Rum so much that I bought a bottle to take home. I ordered the Devil's Share Burger, perfectly flavored with its aged white cheddar, crispy fried onions and Bourbon Bacon jam. We were surprised by the blue rice in Tori's Malaysian Curry which gets its natural color from the Pea Flower in Southeast Asia. For desert, we shared the Tiki Monkey Sticky Toffee Pudding. This might be our new favorite dessert, beating out the Warm Butter Cake from Nick's in San Clemente. We want to come back for the distillery tour when it returns this summer.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Michelin Star Dining at Sushi Tadokoro
(Tori's Birthday Dinner)

For Tori's Birthday, we went to dinner at Sushi Tadokoro in Old Town San Diego. I learned of the restaurant when it was awarded its first Michelin Star in 2021. We considered the Omakase Course but we ordered à la carte as we sat at the bar instead, trying a range of Sashimi, Nigiri and Cut Rolls that peaked our interest.

T,Y,S Sashimi (Tuna, Yellowtail and Salmon) - We started with a selection of sashimi. We enjoyed all three but surprisingly our favorite was the salmon. We tried it first, thinking it would be our least favorite, but it blew us both away with its flavor and creamy texture.

Grilled Chilean Sea Bass - Marinated for four days in Miso Paste, this mouth-watering cut of fish with a buttery texture was so delicious. The savory flavor was the definition of Unami.

San Diego Roll / Crunchy Roll - We are glad we shared these two tasty cut rolls to help fill us up. Without them, we would probably have needed to break the bank to feel full after our meal. The Crunchy Roll with Shrimp Tempura is an old favorite and we enjoyed a new one, the San Diego Roll adding Mexican flavors with avocado and salsa to the Spicy Yellowtail. 

Aji / Salmon Nigiri Sushi - While the Aji (Horse Mackerel) normally migrates around the coast of Japan, our chef told us this was Seki Aji of the Saganoseki region, Oita Prefecture, caught only with a pole and line in the winter. It is a premium fish that swims in the rough waves of the Bungo Channel, combining the fattiness of an in-shore population with the muscular firmness of the pelagic aji out in the open ocean. Since we loved the salmon sashimi from our first dish, we had to have another piece in nigiri form with rice and a dollop of wasabi. Wonderful! I could have eaten ten more.

Seared Tuna Sashimi - Our last perfect dish was the tuna, pan seared with Garlic and Black Pepper and served with Ponzu Sauce. Each bite was heaven!

Black Sesame Ice Cream - It was our first time trying this type of ice cream. It was delicious with a savoriness that we were not expecting. I couldn't tell if it was coming from the ice cream or the sauce since I was not able to get a bite of the ice cream without the sauce.

Next time we come, we definitely want to try the Omakase Course. The word, Omakase, translates as "I leave it up to you" which means we would enjoy a long series of seasonal delicacies chosen by the chef.